An echocardiogram (often called an "echo") is a graphic outline of your heart's movement. During this test, high-frequency sound waves, called ultrasound, provide pictures of your heart's valves and chambers. This allows your doctor to see the pumping action of the heart.
Echo is often combined with tests called Doppler ultrasound and color Doppler to check the blood flow through the heart's valves.
Doctors diagnose heart failure by taking a medical history and conducting a physical exam and tests.
During the medical history your doctor will want to know if:
You have any other health problems such as diabetes, kidney disease, angina (chest pain), high blood pressure, or other heart problems
You drink alcohol, and if so, how much
You are taking medications.
During the physical, the doctor will check your blood pressure, use a stethoscope to hear sounds associated with...
Transthoracic: This is the standard echo. It’s a painless test similar to an X-ray, but without radiation. Ultrasound waves are bounced off the heart to make images and sounds that can help your doctor judge your heart's health.
Transesophageal: A device called a transducer is inserted down your throat into your esophagus (the swallowing tube that connects your mouth to your stomach.) Since the esophagus is close to the heart, clear images of the heart can be gotten without messing with the lungs and chest.
Stress: This is done while you exercise on a treadmill or stationary bicycle. This test can show the motion of the hearts walls and the heart’s pumping action when it’s stressed. It can show a lack of blood flow that isn't always seen on other heart tests. The echo is performed just before and after the exercise.
Dobutamine or adenosine stress: This is another form of stress echo. In this one, instead of exercising to stress the heart, you’re giving a drug that stimulates the heart and makes it "think" it is exercising. It’s used when you can’t use a treadmill or stationary bike. It shows how well your heart tolerates activity. It can also show your odds of having coronary artery disease, and it can tell the effectiveness of your cardiac treatment plan.
Intravascular ultrasound. During this procedure, the transducer is threaded into the heart's blood vessels via a catheter in the groin. It is often used to provide detailed information about blockage inside the blood vessels.